In the current online film commentary culture, there is no more prevailing influence on fandom than the Star Wars franchise. Even more particularly is the undying love and borderline obsession many writers have with Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Which is quite strange given the film is not very good and a totally pale imitation of Star Wars (1977).
One of the major issues with the film is on the story front. Whereas the first film was a reimagining of classic story structures infused with the occasional dash of originality, this film, especially early, is large part interminable love story. The soapie style dialogue and Leia/Han shenanigans clunk badly, mainly because they are drearily written with no spark whatsoever. Not to mention that this is all part of love-triangle predicated on a premise I’m not sure can ever hold up on re-watch once you are aware of all the revelations that the trilogy contains. It is made to feel even worse because it is contrasted with the friendship between Luke and Han that is fully established and expressed in a way by the two characters that actually feels genuine. So the human stuff is meh for the most part. The saving grace though is the development of Vader as the villain at the heart of these films. Here he continues to establish himself as a legitimately evil, throat constricting dude. Not to mention we get to glimpse him under the helmet for the first time which is totally badass. The story does pick up a little once the main parties split, with Luke pursuing training with Yoda whilst Han and Leia do their own thing. In part this is merely based on the fact that the love triangle elements are relegated so we do not have to endure the worst elements of the dialogue. It’s a shame that overall the story is not quite there, because there are some really interesting psychological aspects to what is going on, especially in Luke’s relationship with the dark side.
The film also makes plain some issues that were hinted at in the first film, perhaps due to the fact this one does not have the same simple, yet forceful narrative structure to get by on. There is no real depth to the world building which is glaring here. It’s simply just the odd cool creature or a different landscape. A procession of worlds with surface level quirks essentially, no mythos underlying that. The ship design holds up better, perhaps because we are really just after stuff that looks rad rather than anything deeper. The design relies on riffing on both classic sci-fi ideas and expanding on what we saw in the first film. That said, the combat does not have the same weight as that in the first film. It is especially hurt by an over-computerised sheen (though as with all things Star Wars, who knows if it looked that bad in the original release). Plus there is a severe lack of good set pieces in this movie, which overall lacks in the cool action stakes. The music is still totally brilliant though and it helps to make the best moments of the film pop. Think the tune that heralds Vader’s arrival every time, a conceit that could have gone totally wrong, but thankfully enhances that character’s presence greatly.
Verdict: The Empire Strikes Back is not all bad, but frankly a fair amount of it is. And given its current reputation it’s frankly hard not to consider this one of the most overrated films of all time. The film sorely misses the classicism and especially clarity of the first film’s storytelling. And it’s a bummer, because this film contains one of cinema’s all-time iconic moments. But unfortunately it just exists in a not very good flick. Schooner of Carlton Draught